Noren curtains hang outside shops and restaurants in Japan to indicate whether they are open for business or not. They are also found in homes and onsen.
Japanese Culture: Noren のれん
Japanese noren in a shop doorway in Kyoto
Noren curtains are seen in Japan both outside and inside buildings.
Usually cotton or linen they are hung outside shops and restaurants to indicate they are open for business. When closed the noren are taken inside.
Rectangular in shape noren curtains are slit from the bottom to near the top to provide ease of entry.
They also provide some degree of privacy and protection from bright light, heat, smoke and dust.
Within a house noren usually hang in the kitchen to protect the living areas from smoke.
Noren have possibly been around for about a thousand years and were probably originally meant just to protect goods on display, but now have the function of being like a billboard, advertising the name of the establishment, and also an "open" sign, being hung up outside the doorway when somewhere opens.
Noren for Aogiri Gallery in Okazaki, Kyoto displaying the name in kanji
A contemporary noren for an eatery in Kyoto; noren are attached to a wooden dowel or cylindrical rod and hung above the entrance
Noren are usually narrow on restaurants and wider for shops and houses. Kyoto, in particular, has many fine examples of noren curtains which come in a variety of colors and designs.
The city is a good place to purchase noren if you wish to take one home as a souvenir of your time in Japan.
Shop noren may also display illustrations of the goods on sale within the establishment as in the example below.
One particular use of noren is in sento (public baths) or onsen (hot spring baths) to distinguish between the entrances for males and females. The male curtain is usually blue with the female noren red or pink.
Sento usually have a large noren at their entrances, often brightly colored with the symbol ゆ or 湯.
Shop noren may also display illustrations of the goods on sale within the establishment, in this case wooden crafts
Kanji characters ("woman" on the left; "man" on the right) conveniently placed on the norenKanji characters ("woman" on the left; "man" on the right) suitably indicate in which direction one should go
Striking modern noren in Katsuyama
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Colorful and bold noren in Katsuyama